January 23, 2013
In the 1980s I created a character called The Carkid which I saw as basically the Billy the Kid story brought forward to the land of The Mother Road and two-lane blacktop:
It was partly because of this idea and my love of road culture that I finally read "On The Road." I loved it so much I bought the scroll version of the book which I'm now reading. I finished the biography of Jack Kerouac this morning and I watched a DVD the other night from Netflix on "Whatever Happened to Kerouac?" it was interesting to see Neal Cassady (the hero of "On The Road") and his wife Carolyn Cassady actually talk and move. They had old 8mm movie film of Cassady prancing around without his shirt working on cars, looking exactly like Kerouac described him in the book. It was also interesting to see some of the other Beat characters actually talk and walk. Even Burroughs was interviewed and came across as very astute and clean looking (for a guy who did heroin for most of his life). All the others still smoked, including his agent, and in fact were smoking on camera, coughing and hollowed out (the doc was made in 1986). That was sad, how hollowed out and gone they were. But not as sad as seeing Kerouac on Firing Line a talk show with William F. Buckley in 1960, I believe it was. Jack was completely smashed and drunk, just a raving fool. He never claimed his daughter, never had a family, lived with his mother, disowned all his friends, including Allen Ginsberg who Jack called out in the audience and called him a Communist. Kerouac watched the McCarthy hearings on TV rooting for McCarthy while smoking pot! Crazy, crazy mo fo. Selfish to the core. He showed up at Cassaday's house more than once to get Neal to forego his husbandly duties (he's got a kid for Christ's sake!). In the book Neal's wife is upstairs crying, "You lied! You lied! You lied!" Kerouac doesn't say why but reading between the lines she's understandably upset because Jack is going to ruin their life by tempting Neal to go on another irresponsible, crazy road trip and Neal promised her he wouldn't do that anymore. Jack, the jock, is a total, selfish bastard who deserved his fate, dying at 47 of alcohol abuse. And yet, and yet. . .
In the book, I've made it up to Laredo and they are getting set to cross into Mexico for the final March:
"All kinds of border rats wandered around looking for opportunities. there weren't many, it was too late. It was the bottom and dregs of America where all the heavy villains sink, where disoriented people have to go to be near a specific elsewhere they can slip in unnoticed. Contraband brooded in the heavy-syrup air. Cops were redfaced and sullen and sweaty, no swagger. Waitresses were dirty and disgusted. Just beyond you could feel the enormous presence of the whole continent of Mexico and almost smell the billion tortillas frying and smoking in the night."
And I read this and I think—all is forgiven. Just pure poetry of—and on—the Road.
"[I] went fast because the road is fast."